Section: Discovery of America
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Dir.: Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog’s 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly tells the extraordinary story of a German-born American Navy pilot, Dieter Dengler, who crash-landed in Laos during the Vietnam War. He was imprisoned in a POW camp and brutally tortured. He then engineered an extraordinary escape with the other inmates, both American and Vietnamese. Near starvation and overwhelmed by the forces of nature closing in on him, Dengler was rescued at last by United States choppers that happened to be flying over the area.
Christian Bale plays Dengler in Rescue Dawn. It is one of this accomplished actor’s most breathtaking performances. From all-American wisecracker to beaten-down victim to Messianic, rifle-toting outlaw, Bale inhabits his character with such a fierce and passionate intensity that one recalls the similarly riveting performances of Herzog’s muse, Klaus Kinski. The camerawork is characteristically stunning, although simpler and more direct than in Herzog’s past films; the script is equally propulsive.
“This clarity actually is a blessing. It allows a ruminative viewer to quickly intuit Herzog’s motives for making the film at this historical moment. After all, Dengler is captured during a ‘secret war’ waged to extract America from a quagmire abroad. He encounters brutal hostility from the Laotian guards and villagers he encounters. And he is tortured, contrary to the Geneva Conventions. Sound familiar?” (Noah Cowan)
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